Taking photos of ‘statues’ or more specific works of art in public places has been a hobby of mine for a long time. Art in open spaces fascinates me because it feels like a genuine interaction between the artist, the art, the environment and us. Or in this particular case – me.
I have always found sculptures in public places to be both evocative and provocative. They stir my imagination. They invite me to think. I love the 3-dimensional qualities of them. I can stand and look at them for ages; taking in their form from as many angles as I can. I’ll even lie down for another perspective. Rodin’s The Thinker is a much more powerful set against a deep blue sky than an old stone wall.
Now, you might find this next confession a bit surprising, especially from someone who has a go at painting pictures, but I’m not a big art gallery fan. I seldom go. In truth, I find gallery environments much too sterile, and too quiet. Artificial,. Manufactured even. I would much rather look at a painting that’s hanging on the wall in someone’s kitchen while drinking coffee and eating toast. I feel that art belongs at the centre of people’s lives; both as décor and interlocutor. Which is why I like the experience of art outdoors.
Angel of the North
I’ll give you an example. About 5 years ago I went to visit my family in England; some of whom live in Hartlepool in the North East. On this occasion, I decided to include a diversion and take a short walk to a sculpture that I had wanted to experience for a long while. The statue can be seen while driving north along with the A1. It was erected in 1998. Even from the motorway, it is an impressive work of art standing as it does on the top of a large mound. It’s called the Angel of the North (photo on the top).
I arrived early morning and there were about 40 people there already. But there was lots of open space so you could feel quite alone. I had done my research and was fully informed, but this did not adequately prepare me for the emotional impact of the scale of this artistic statement. Some people find it brutal and ugly. I was transfixed by its raw and earthy beauty.
This is what the artist Anthony Gormley says about his work:
“Is it possible to make a work with purpose in a time that demands doubt? I wanted to make an object that would be a focus of hope at a painful time of transition for the people of the North East, abandoned in the gap between the industrial and the information ages.”
You see, it was the end of an era; coal extraction had been phased out but beneath that mound and others like it across the North East, thousands of coal miners had worked the seams deep underground for three centuries.
Symbol of suffering and hope
This is what the plaque beside the Angel reads:
‘The hilltop site is important and has the feeling of being a megalithic mound. “When you think of the mining that was done underneath the site, there is a poetic resonance. Men worked beneath the surface in the dark…. It is important to me (Anthony Gormley) that the Angel is rooted in the ground—the complete antithesis of what an angel is, floating about in the ether. It has an air of mystery. You make things because they cannot be said.” This writing pays homage to the central idea of the statue to represent the past, present, and the changing times of the nation.’
According to the artist, Anthony Gormley, the significance of an angel was three-fold: firstly, to signify that beneath the site of its construction, coal miners had worked for centuries; secondly, to grasp the transition from an industrial to an information age; and thirdly, to serve as a focus for our evolving hopes and fears.
The statue is 54 metres wide and 24 metres tall, and like most crosses, is a symbol of suffering and hope.